Senator Jefferson B. Sessions, Nominee for Attorney General of the United States
President-elect Donald Trump nominated Senator Jefferson B. Sessions (R-AL) as the Attorney General for the United States of America on November 18, 2016. His nomination again sparked controversy, with renewed speculation over his past actions during his time as Assistant United States Attorney in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and as United States Attorney for the same office, for which position he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the Senate in 1981.
Controversy surrounded his nomination for a federal judgeship by President Reagan in 1989, in regards to Sessions’ personal opinions on civil rights. Allegations of racially inappropriate comments impacted a 10-8 vote against his nomination. During his confirmation hearings, Sessions denied calling a co-worker ‘boy’ and telling him to ‘be careful how you speak to white folks’. Sessions did admit to making a comment about being okay with the Klan (KKK) until he found out they smoked marijuana. He stated during this period that the comment was a joke, and was pointed at the KKK in a derogatory way, as he did not like them. (SENATE, 1986)
In addition, statements that he made about the NAACP and ACLU being un-American were highlighted. Sessions defended his comments, saying that often times the two organizations got involved in on-going civil rights cases assigned to his office and that they caused issues for both the prosecution and the defense. Finally, allegations that he stated that a white attorney working for organizations such as the NAACP and ACLU, would be a disgrace to their race, were refuted by Sessions as comments he did not recall making, and he did not know why he would have made such a comment.
Sessions also defended his office’s failed prosecution against 3 civil rights activists for mail fraud, mainly charges of changing votes on mail in ballots and then mailing them for individuals, when Senator Ted Kennedy grilled him on his motives for doing so. In the confirmation hearings, no definitive evidence was produced that highlighted bias towards the defendants in the case, with Sessions discussing in-depth the evidence that was presented, what it led the prosecution to believe, and that while the case did not successfully prosecute the individuals – who were acquitted – his office often took cases that they fail to prosecute, which is the way of the justice system.
While these concerns from over 30 years ago have become the focal point of speculation on how he will decide actions as the Attorney General for the United States of America, his record runs a wide range in regards to civil rights. His office prosecuted two members of the KKK for kidnapping and hanging a young black man, with one of the defendants given the death sentence and the other a life sentence. He was the lead U.S. Attorney in a key Alabama desegregation case, successfully proving that an all-white School Board was disproportionately representing the community and the student population. He also promoted legislation to honor Rosa Parks.
While these renewed concerns are a focus of the national media, the Federalist Coalition would like to highlight key things that Senator Sessions has commented on or been involved in during his public life, which provide insight into his thoughts on other important issues that the Department of Justice faces, bias in policing, surveillance and immigration. All of these issues impact all American citizens, our Constitutional Republic, and our federalist government system that we have today.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COMMUNITIES AND LAW ENFORCEMENT: BIAS POLICING
During the Obama Administration, the President used his executive powers to attempt to change the way that police officers were criminal prosecuted in several states, in light of consternation from citizens concerning police brutality in several highly publicized situations nationwide. The DOJ under Obama, investigated several police departments and entered into mandated reforms.
In a 2008 publication by the Alabama Policy Institute, Senator Sessions stated in the foreword:
“One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees. Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process. Such decrees are particularly offensive when certain governmental agencies secretly delight in being sued because they hope a settlement will be reached resulting in the agency receiving more money than what the legislative branch or other funding source would otherwise have deemed justified. Thus, the taxpayers ultimately fund the settlement enacted through this undemocratic process.” (Alabama Policy Institute , 2008)
Sessions went on to say that when he was the Attorney General, he successfully appealed a court decree adding members to the State’s Supreme Court, which changed the state constitution. He clarified that consent decrees are a valuable necessity in law, however, “taxation and regulation through litigation is not the proper role of the judiciary.”
How Senator Sessions will choose to continue DOJ investigations and advise the Executive Branch on continued mandated reforms is unknown at this stage. With his views on utilizing the judiciary to reform law enforcement through the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, perhaps he will take a more cautious approach and advise that the states and federal government should work together to find a better path, without over reaching federal government force of action.
SURVEILLANCE: PROTECTING THE SAFETY OF THE COUNTRY
This has been a hot topic of debate in this country, since a terrorist organization chose to attack our citizens on our own soil. Much has been debated on the Constitutionality and legality of federal government actions taken to prevent further attacks, how they investigate and collect evidence against potential suspects, and what the implications to the privacy rights of citizens are.
In 2015, Senator Sessions wrote an article for the National Review, in which he offers that the USA Freedom Act, hampered the ability of law enforcement to gather data on potential terrorist suspects. In particular, Sessions stated that “requiring the government to obtain a court order every time it seeks to search data held by private companies would significantly delay investigations, giving terrorists a substantial operational advantage.” (Sessions, 2015)
He has also criticize private tech companies, in particular Apple Inc., for refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies, in gathering data from their products to aide in investigations, when the company chose to not voluntarily provide the data that the agencies wanted, and forced the federal government to take them to federal court to ask for that cooperation.
In 2006, Senator Sessions made several floor statements that supported leeway for the Executive Branch regarding NSA surveillance over intercept of communications from the enemy, of which he was careful to note that enemy was Al Qaeda. At the time, he supported the Foreign Intelligence surveillance Act (FISA) its endeavors and made the case for being able to infiltrate, decode and combat tightly knit criminal organizations in order to protect the safety of the nation. Particularly, he stated that while the Legislative Branch has criticized NSA programs and FISA, they have not introduced legislation to limit it or cease the programs and operations. (Sessions, Floor Statements, 2006), (Sessions, Floor Statements, 2006)
IMMIGRATION REFORM AND REFUGEE PROGRAMS
President-elect Trump made immigration his key platform during his campaign. His goals have been to secure the borders and deport illegal immigrants.
Senator Sessions is a staunch opponent of amnesty for illegal immigrants. He opposed the 2007 amnesty bill and the 2013 Gang of Eight initiative that would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants. In addition to that, he considers the Obama Administration’s executive orders keeping families together versus deportation to be both brazen and illegal (Sessions, News Releases, 2016).
In October of 2016, Senator Sessions made statements in the Senate criticizing the Obama Administrations’ policies of open borders, stating that these policies “have made our country less secure than we were eight years ago, eviscerated any semblance of credibility in our immigration system, and have created an ever-growing financial burden on U.S. taxpayers.” (Sessions, News Releases, 2016)
Senator Sessions is against resettling mass numbers of refugees from unstable regions of the world, inside the United States. He believes that while they are victims of circumstance, the inability to truly vet them to protect the safety of the citizens of this country, is a risk that the federal government should not take. He proposed a solution of setting up safe zones close to their countries of origins, inside their geographical regions of the world. He believes that doing so will “more effectively provide protection for refugees and otherwise displaced persons, at a fraction of the cost that it takes to resettle them in the United States.” Moreover, he believes that no one has a Constitutional right to demand entry into our country, and that the United States should only assist if it’s in the country’s best interests to do so. (Sessions, News Releases, 2016)
If Senator Sessions is confirmed by the Senate as the next Attorney General for the United States of America, the probability that most law enforcement actions and inactions from the previous Administration will be reformed inside the Department of Justice is high. How Senator Sessions will choose to reform and reshape the DOJ under the Trump administration will be of much interest to the Federalist Coalition, as the inherent Constitutional rights of the citizens of this country, along with the inherent rights of the states to enact laws without federal government overreach is of the upmost importance to ensuring that system we enjoy today builds on the foundations provided by our founding fathers.
Alabama Policy Institute . (2008, 06 24). API Research Consent Decrees . Retrieved from Alabama Policy.org: http://www.alabamapolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/API-Research-Consent-Decrees.pdf
SENATE, C. O. (1986). NOMINATION OF JEFFERSON B. SESSIONS III, TO BE U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA. COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY UNITED STATES SENATE.
Sessions, J. B. (2006, 02 10). Floor Statements. Retrieved from Sessions.Senate.Gov: http://www.sessions.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/floor-statements?ID=ef3809fc-7e9c-9af9-7e52-e97a6de87faf
Sessions, J. B. (2006, 02 09). Floor Statements. Retrieved from Sessions.Senate.Gov: http://www.sessions.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/floor-statements?ID=EF3CCEDF-7E9C-9AF9-78BD-0CA9C83CC728
Sessions, J. B. (2015, May 20). Why Should Terrorists Be Harder to Investigate than Routine Criminals? Retrieved from The National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/418675/dont-hamper-nsas-ability-stop-terrorist-attacks
Sessions, J.B. (2016, Jan 04). Chairman Sessions Issues Statement on New Obama Executive Action to Shred Immigration Caps. http://www.sessions.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2016/1/chairman-sessions-issues-statement-on-new-obama-executive-action-to-shred-immigration-caps
Sessions, J. B. (2016, 10 18). News Releases. Retrieved from Sessions.Senate.Gov: http://www.sessions.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news-releases?ID=A0331314-C9AF-4D5F-B1F8-4CBDB5FF0BC5
Sessions, J. B. (2016, 09 26). News Releases. Retrieved from Sessions.Senate.Gov: http://www.sessions.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news-releases?ID=B60432D7-B5D7-49D4-9A5B-83A2FE24BFA2